From a new generation of South Asian filmmakers, culturally nuanced stories with universal appeal

During a comedic reprieve in the family drama Agam Darshi donkey, protagonist Mona — the black sheep of a Canadian Sikh-Punjabi family — takes her relative to duty. Her sisters had just been parachuted back into Regina, where Mona had been their father’s sole caregiver for the seven years since his cancer diagnosis.

Mona’s religious aunt insists that the family holds a road (Sikh scripture reading) for their father, who recently suffered a stroke: “My brother needs God and prayers.”

All the brothers were on board, but Mona stubbornly shouted “Our father needs peace and quiet.

Darshi, who directed and stars as Mona, told CBC News that she originally envisioned the film without the emphasis on the characters’ ethnic and regional backgrounds.

“I wanted to show a family that felt more North American than South Asian. They just happened to be South Asian,” Darshi said. “Then the more I started working on it and the deeper I got into this world and these people, it was impossible to divorce where they came from.

“By the time we started shooting, it was very clear that the cultural aspect was a big part of this film.”

VIEW | Canadian filmmaker Agam Darshi discusses the making of his new film, Donkeyhead:

Q21:19Agam Darshi in his directorial debut Donkeyhead

Growing up, Agam Darshi didn’t see people who looked like him on screen. The actor has been working to increase South Asian representation in film and TV for years, but he just released his first feature film, Donkeyhead, about a Canadian Sikh-Punjabi family who is very much like his family. It follows four siblings who try to navigate life around their ailing father. Darshi joins Tom Power to tell us more about the film. 21:19

North American filmmakers such as Darshi focus on the experiences of South Asians in their work, addressing universal themes with cultural specificities that reflect the diverse nature of the diaspora.

Sikh-Punjabi Darshi character differs from Hindu Bengali family in Sujata Day’s Definition of Help — each recently released on Netflix Canada — but both films center on an accomplished woman assigned to care for an ailing parent.

“I believe that specificity creates universality,” says Darshi.

The title of the movie is common term dear used by Punjabi parents in reference to their children.

“Like, we only see ourselves in other cultures…. If they’re honest, then it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it.’ I think that’s kind of the beauty of storytelling.”

VIEW | Trailer for the smart family drama Agam Darshi donkey:

The major successes of directors Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair and Srinivas Krishna from the 1980s and 2000s paved the way for the current generation of North American South Asian filmmakers like Darshi and Day, according to Arshad Khan, festival director for the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival ( MISAFF).

MISAFF, running out of Mississauga, Ontario, hosts world premiere donkey and Canadian premiere Definition, Please.

Khan told CBC News that one of the aims of the festival is to showcase South Asian and Middle Eastern cinema outside of Canada’s main metropolitan area.

“We feel like there’s nothing on display in the suburbs, you know, where most South Asians live.”

LISTEN | Agam Darshi appears in Q with Tom Power:

donkeywhich is located on the outskirts of Regina, “describes very clearly the Canadian experience in South Asia in the Prairies or in small Canadian towns,” Khan added.

According to the 2016 census, 44 percent of the population is in Brampton, an Ontario suburb in the Greater Toronto Area where minorities are visible be the majorityidentified as South Asia.

“I think there’s something very strong about people from a region or from a certain ethnicity, historical background, telling stories from their point of view and their point of view which is rooted in the community,” said AT Nayani, a writer and director of Tamil films. Canada.

Nayani, whose parents are Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, said it was important to distinguish between the distinct South Asian identities and experiences in film and television – especially because of the amalgamation of “South Asia” with “India.”

“I think people are seeing … that there have probably been a handful of historically Indian directors in Canada and the US who have done well. And while I relate in some ways to the narratives they convey, that’s not my experience,” Nayani said. , noting that the history of conflict between communities from different subregions is not always reflected on the screen.

“It’s not enough for me to just say that I’m a brown South Asian woman from Toronto behind the scenes. What decisions did I make, what choices did I make?… I have to reflect on it because it’s still a responsibility.”

VIEW | Trailer for the romantic comedy Geeta Malik Indian Sweets and Spices:

Many of these recent films share a common theme: contemplating the generational differences between young Canadians and Americans born to South Asian immigrant parents.

In the 2021 romantic comedy Geeta Malik Indian Sweets and SpicesUCLA student Alia returns to suburban New Jersey for the summer, clashing with her Indian-American parents over their high expectations.

In the movie 2021 speed up, which premiered on TIFF and was directed by Haya Waseem, a Canadian teenager struggling between her identity at home and her independence at school.

day Definition of Help follows a former spelling bee champion who reconciles with his brother as they care for their ailing mother.

When donkeyDrama’s mostly contains challenging family dynamics, still demonstrating the bigotry that South Asian Canadians can encounter in everyday life.

The brothers from Donkeyhead Darshi sing the festive O Canada at a bar in Regina, where they reunite to care for their ailing father. (level movie)

A standout scene takes place at a neighborhood bar, where Mona has woken up her siblings and other patrons to a song O Canada, one of his father’s “favorite songs”. It’s a merry moment when bargoers unite in drunken song, but are then undermined by a sudden shriek of scorn, an off-screen voice telling the Sikh-Punjabi family to return to where they came from.

“I had a lot of experiences growing up in Canada where people hurled racial slurs at me,” Darshi said. “It’s a complicated country. It’s one that values ​​the immigration process and their people a lot, maybe on the surface, but the reality is something else.”

“And I think as people of color in this country, we can see that it’s not fair. Things are weighed in a much different way.”

For Nayani, other South Asian and BIPOC filmmakers are moving away from the idea of ​​contributing to the North American film canon, which she says is a predominantly white and male space.

This is not to say that there [haven’t] has been an amazing woman and a woman from the BIPOC community who has been a part of filmmaking for a long time,” said Nayani.

“I don’t know if we’re really trying to be part of the canon like trying to broaden the idea of ​​what a canon is, and make our own canon, and broaden the idea of ​​what people think of when they think of Canadian or North American filmmaking.”

Jackson Wintringham

"Coffee aficionado nerd. Troublemaker. General communicator. Gamer. Analyst. Creator. Total brew ninja."

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